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Is Fox News in trouble?

Some people believe a good reporter will do anything to get a good story.

It isn't so. Good reporters aggressively make use of sources, file Freedom of Information Act requests, wear down uncooperative gatekeepers with phone calls and e-mails, and generally use every legal and ethical means at their disposal to get important stories.

But there are lines they don't cross. Good reporters don't hack people's mobile phones to get their voice mail messages, for one thing, as employees of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. are under arrest for doing in England. They don't interfere in murder investigations or try to bribe government officials, either.

So far the scandal is limited to News of the World, a Murdoch-owned newspaper that shut down recently when the extent of its illegal activities came to light. But as Eliot Spitzer, writing in Slate, points out:

So how does all this concern Americans? First, it is hard to believe that the misbehavior in Murdoch's media empire stopped at the water's edge. Given the frequency with which he shuttled his senior executives and editors across the various oceans—Pacific as well as Atlantic—it is unlikely that the shoddy ethics were limited to Great Britain.

Much more importantly, the facts already pretty well established in Britain indicate violations of American law, in particular a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has been going out of its way to undertake FCPA prosecutions and investigations in recent years, and the News Corp. case presents a pretty simple test for Attorney General Eric Holder: If the department fails to open an immediate investigation into News Corp.'s violations of the FCPA, there will have been a major breach of enforcement at Justice. Having failed to pursue Wall Street with any apparent vigor, this is an opportunity for the Justice Department to show it can flex its muscles at the right moment. While one must always be cautious in seeking government investigation of the media for the obvious First Amendment concerns, this is not actually an investigation of the media, but an investigation of criminal acts undertaken by those masquerading as members of the media.

Because News Corp. is incorporated in America, it is subject to the FCPA, Spitzer writes. An investigation could lead to revocation of FCC licenses for News Corp. operations in America -- including Fox News -- even if there's no evidence of American Murdoch employees engaging in similar acts.

Is this too harsh?

On the one hand, news organizations should follow the law and simple ethical principles. If Murdoch's company tacitly approved the behavior uncovered at News of the World, it may deserve more punishment than closing the newspaper -- which the company already did -- would bring.

On the other hand, though, if the actions were limited to News of the World employees, and not part of accepted practices at News Corp., it's hard to see how the American operations deserve to be sanctioned.

What do you think?  

Posted on Jul 14, 2011 at 12:18 PM


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Reader comments

Sat, Jul 23, 2011 travid duke wa

I would expect nothing more from a corprit based company that will extract wealth at any cost and any one who votes for the intrests of kings instead of their own intrests doesnt deserve freedom "if you love wealth more than freedom crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you" Samuel Adams

Sat, Jul 23, 2011 John Watson New Jersey

Absolutely. Fox News is worse than any of the other Murdoch properties. That is why Murdoch was so quick to chew off his arm (News of the World) To try to make this go away before it reaches Fox News. Fox News is very much a tabloid but it is masked as real news... its next. This will be fun to watch unfold... on the other news stations of course.

Fri, Jul 22, 2011

To shut down Fox news is as silly as shutting down Msnbc or ABC both of which have there share of scandle, whose in fact than Fox. Can you say 1st amendment baby?

Sat, Jul 16, 2011

I dont see how Spitzer's past scandal has anything to do with the phone hacking situation in the UK right now. He has every right to make these kind of comments just like any other American.

Prostitution should be legalized and regulated anyways.

"We have had plenty of ethical abuse, if not illegal news gathering, from the mostly liberal side of the media," Examples? Oh yeah, they don't exist.

Fri, Jul 15, 2011 Randy

The Fox broadcasting network, sure. That's the one that shows sitcoms on the broadcast channels.

But Fox News is a cable channel. As such, it doesn't need an FCC license.

To shut down Fox News Channel, you'd need to rewrite the First Amendment.

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